Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Wedding Venue Hunt

Pismo Beach wasn't the automatic choice. Initially we thought of getting married somewhere exotic. While Fresno was a bit too out there, we considered Belize, Fiji, or pretty much anywhere where 50% or more of our guests would be completely out of their element.

And then it struck us, perhaps we should make it place where our guests would feel comfortable and be encouraged to come. Friends and family will be taking time out of there lives to grace our union and maybe we shouldn't force them to figure out the Costa Rican exchange rate. Also, the American wedding cartel has been successful in making international weddings a ridiculous challenge logistics-wise, so our wedding became destined to be born in the USA.

So United States - What are the options? Hawaii? Oh yes, that's original. Plus not cheap (for the guests or us). Aloha Hawaii.

Minnesota would undoubtedly be encouraged by Jenn's extended family, but would be a headeache to plan. Plus, when hosting a wedding outside one's state, isn't there a rule that the location must contain stunning beaches in return for the corresponding pain? Adios Minnesota.

Salt Lake City? Right.

So eventually it had to be California. So many possibilities. How about a national park? Yosemite was an obvious consideration. We have been on several memorable trips to the geological giant, it's relatively close to the Bay Area, and it would be an absolutely stunning location. How awesome would it to be to get married in the shadow of Half Dome?

But after some cursory interne
t research we found the downsides were too many to endure. If we had the reception in the park, the music had to be cut-off by 10 pm. The reception venues were either prohibitively expensive or shoddy. Accommodations would be tough to book. Time to move on.

The Northern California Coast (as in north of San Francisco) was discussed but never seriously considered, as potentially volatile weather risked a chilly wedding.

California Wine Country is nice, but holds no sentimental value.

Southern California is Southern California - hostile territory and no place for a wedding.

So where did that leave? Santa Cruz was an obvious candidate. Kevin is a native, it was the location of the engagement, and it's simply a great place. The Santa Cruz area contains a beautiful coastline, dense forests, temperate weather, and ample accommodation options. Jackpot! We found several potential venues online and on May 2nd, 2009 we conducted our first wedding venue search.

Vignette - Santa Cruz Mountains

On a cool, foggy, Spring day our first stop was Vignette, a small, out-of-service ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains. the Vignette wedding coor
dinator, Marky, met us at 10 AM and we toured the facility. The ranch was remote and pretty, but immediately we identified several issues:

The Location - Because the ranch had no rooms to rent, one would have to drive a windy 45 minutes to get to the nearest accommodation. How much alcohol can you serve knowing each guest would be facing that?
The Noise - Marky informed us that the reception had to end at 8 o'clock as we had to "consider the neighbors" with noise pollution. First of all, how dare you insinuate our music as pollution. Second, what's the poi
nt of having a remote wedding in the woods if you can't get crazy loud? Seemed to defeat the purpose.
The Wedding Location - The altar was on a grassy incline above a stagnant pond. Anytime you combine the words stagnant and altar, it's usually a bad sign.

Pema Osel Ling - Santa Cruz Mountains

We continued our search to Pema Osel Ling (POL), a large secluded retreat further up into the Santa Cruz Mountains. While further away from civilization, POL offered the advantage of numerous cabins and small houses to accommodate our guests.

We met up with Gina, a disinterested tour guide of the beautiful property. What a place to get married. The redwood tree altar location was absolutely stunning.

On top of that, there was the potential atmosphere of having most guests stay in the same location, with numerous possible activities (hiking, volleyball, bbq's, etc), it seemed like a great option. But we turned it down. Why?

The Cost - If we were to get married at POL, we'd either have to take out a mort
gage or charge each guest exorbitant amounts to attend our little get-together (which was actually encouraged by the tour guide).
The Attitude - Gina, the guide to the retreat, had a this place is so great that I don't need to even try attitude. And she tried to pressure us to book immediately. Such pressure was slight-to-nonexistent in all the other places we visited.
The Buddhist Thing - The POL retreat is actually a Buddhist retreat, which contained, among other things, a large Buddhist House of Worship which itself housed a 20-foot high gold plated elephant. Jenn's extended Midwest family would be afraid. Very afraid. And what are the odds of being granted dispensation to hold the ceremony in a Buddhist retreat?

Monarch Cove - Capitola

Our final stop in the Santa Cruz area was the most likely possibility: Monarch Cove in Capitola. Situated on a bluff above the beach, the bed and breakfast inn contained enough rooms to house th
e wedding party and it had a very pretty wedding location above the Pacific Ocean. The cost was manageable. The venue was great. The problem? The reception (or lack thereof). Because of local ordinances, music had to be shut down by 6 pm. So either that meant we try to find an additional venue to house the reception in Santa Cruz (which we actually did look into) or we move on. We moved on.

Before we had checked out the Santa Cruz venues, we had considered Pismo Beach because of it's promise to be a "destination" wedding location, and it's reasonable prices. Situate
d halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Pismo is a true California beach town with a mellow vibe and numerous potential activities. We were excited to check it out.

A week later, Jenn's parents and youngest brother were in town and we all decided to head down to Pismo. A 3-hour drive from home, we piled into the Corolla and arrived at the Shore Cliff Lodge, a Best Western on the bluffs just north of downtown Pismo.

Shore Cliff Lodge - Pismo Beach

We met with Mariah, who must h
ave immediately been impressed with Jenn's non-matching shoes (due to an injury caused by her cavalier kitchen moves - you have to ask her). Immediately we were all stunned by the views. A wedding had just taken place out on the point, and it was absolutely gorgeous. As soon as Kevin saw Jenn's face, he knew it was over. This had to be the place.

We knew it was going well when even Ray, Jenn's dad, was excited about it. We sat down with Mariah to discuss the details. Kevin knew that something would come up. The prices previously discussed would not be accurate. There would be limits on the number of guests. We were too tall. Something.

But, shockingly, everything came up ok. Mariah gave us a clear, printed estimate, and they offered a large number of customizable options to help keep our budget in check. Everyone agreed that the Shore Cliff was the place.

Sea Venture Resort - Pismo Beach

We had one more appointment in the afternoon at the Sea Venture Resort, so we figured we might as well go to make sure that Shore Cliff was indeed the right choice. We won't bore you with the details except to say that Kevin would not be able to jump on the dance floor (which is his patented move) without hitting his head on its 6 foot 8 inch ceiling, and it was very likely that random beach goers would walk though the middle of our ceremony.

<--- The "Dance" Floor

On the way home we all concluded that Shore Cliff was the place. The only decision left to make was the date. After a bit of thought and research, we settled on sometime in the month of September. Why? First, September typically offers the best weather along the California coast - the weather is still very warm and the fog of the summer months has disappeared. Second, a September wedding date would give Jenn enough time to hurry up and graduate already. After that was settled, the 18th was an easy choice; it was the first weekend after Labor Day (apart from September 11th, which didn't seem quite right) so the prices would be lower and the accommodations easier to book. Within a few weeks we signed the contract. Hopefully we'll see you there...

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